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Finally abandoning the window, the Erlking reached for his wineglass. He hesitated, his eyes lifting to hers.
“What?” she asked. “I didn’t poison it.” Then she gasped. “Though perhaps I should try that next time.”25
“I suggest wolfsbane, if you do. I’ve always found the aftertaste to be mildly sweet and quite satisfying.” He lifted the glass to his lips, studying her while he took a sip. When he lowered the glass, he said, “You see yourself as a storyteller, if I’m not mistaken.”
Serilda sat straighter, feeling a little vulnerable that the king might have noticed this quiet, hidden part of her. “I’ve been called worse.”
“Then tell me a story.”
She scowled. “I am not in the mood. And don’t try to order me around. I am not one of your ghosts.”
His lips curled, amused. “I only thought it would pass the time.” His attention turned meaningfully to the clock, as if he’d noticed her watching it.
She huffed. “Actually, there is a story I heard long ago and I’ve always wondered if it was true. They say that the Lovers’ Moon was named for you and Perchta.”
The Erlking cocked his head at her, but did not reply.
“As the tale goes, it was beneath that moon that the two of you shared with each other your truest names, therefore tying your fates together for eternity. That is why some people share their secrets beneath the Lovers’ Moon, because supposedly, the moonlight will protect them.”
“Superstitious nonsense,” he muttered. “Any idiot should know that if you wish to protect a secret, you should speak it to no one, no matter which moon you’re under. But you mortals give such power to fairy tales. You believe fate is determined by old gods and superstitions. That every misfortune can be blamed on the moonlight, the stars, whatever ludicrous thing suits you in the moment. But there is no fate, no fortune. There are only the secrets we share and those we conceal. Our own choices, or the fear of making a choice.”
Serilda stared at him. How many times had the villagers of Märchenfeld blamed their misfortunes on her?
Yet she couldn’t ignore that she was the goddaughter of Wyrdith. She had been cursed by the god of stories and fortune, and to say that those things were of no importance didn’t feel entirely true either.26
Perhaps there was something in between.
A place for things that were out of control, things guided by destiny …
But also, for one’s own choices.
Dread welled inside her. The tragedy was that she wanted to believe in choices. She wanted to believe that she could have control of her fate. But how could she? She was a prisoner of the Erlking. She had made choices and she had made mistakes. But in the end, her fate had been decided for her.
The irony. How Wyrdith must be laughing, wherever they were.
“So,” she started uncertainly, “the story isn’t true, then?”
He scoffed. “That Perchta and I shared names beneath the Lovers’ Moon? Hardly.”
“Shame. I thought it was romantic.”
The Erlking shook his head as he refilled his wineglass. “We do not need fairy tales to distort our romance. Perchta and I … our love was destined from the beginning. I am incomplete without her by my side.”
Serilda stilled, embarrassed by his candor.
It didn’t help that she knew the Erlking intended to bring back Perchta. On the Endless Moon, that rare night when the winter solstice overlapped with the last full moon of the year, the Erlking and his wild hunt planned to capture one of the seven gods. And when the first rays of sunlight struck the realm, that god would be forced to grant a single wish.
The Erlking would use this wish to bring Perchta back from Verloren. The cruel huntress would once again walk the earth, and he would have Serilda’s baby ready to hand over to her. The Erlking had kidnapped many children in attempts to please her, but never before had he given her a newborn babe.
The thought of it sickened Serilda. To him, the life growing inside her was a thing to be wrapped up and given away. A doll, a toy, a thing easily discarded.
And while she might not have met the huntress, from all accounts, Perchta was not the motherly sort, despite her yearning for a child of her own. They said she was ruthless and haughty and cruel. Whenever she tired of27one of the children gifted to her, the Erlking would take him or her out into the woods, and he would return alone.
That was the way of the dark ones.
That was the mother her child was destined for.
That is, except for one little problem. A small caveat that the Erlking himself didn’t yet know.